Scientists create bionic mushroom that generates electricity out of microbes


To harvest that photosynthetic power, scientists have synthetically engineered a mutualistic relationship between microbes and a host mushroom in order to produce electricity.

Stevens Institute of Technology researchers Manu Mannoor, Sudeep Joshi and Ellexis Cook set out to engineer an artificial symbiosis between button mushrooms and cyanobacteria.

This technology is not yet able to produce that amount of electricity to power any electric device. "By integrating cyanobacteria that can produce electricity, with nanoscale materials capable of collecting the current, we were able to better access the unique properties of both, augment them, and create an entirely new functional bionic system". Though modest, it's a proof-of-concept for larger mushroom-based energy projects: according to Joshi, "We are looking to connect all the mushrooms in series, in an array, and we are also looking to pack more bacteria together".

However, the mushroom provides great conditions for the bacteria to thrive, thanks to a combination of nutrients, temperature and moisture, and the scientists found they survived several days longer on the mushroom than on other surfaces. Now, a team of United States researchers say they've found a way to make environmentally friendly energy using bionic mushrooms covered in bacteria.

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Bionic mushrooms are the first examples of a completely eco-friendly way to generate electricity as each of the parts that are involved in the process are completely green and recyclable. "We showed for the first time that a hybrid system can incorporate an artificial collaboration, or engineered symbiosis, between two different microbiological kingdoms", Joshi says.

The pair used a 3D printer to create graphene nanoribbons that would cover the top of the mushroom.

When light was shone on a "bionic mushroom", the bacteria began photosynthesis which generated a current of electricity (65 nano Amps) which was collected by the graphene ribbon. Manoor says this network of nanoribbons is akin to "needles sticking into a single cell to access electrical signals inside it". At these sites, electrons could transfer through the outer membranes of the bacteria to the conductive network of graphene nanoribbons. Shining a light on the mushrooms activated cyanobacterial photosynthesis, generating a photocurrent. And this will solve the problem, which is not allowed to use them to generate electricity, reports Around the world.

"These are the next steps, to optimise the bio-currents, to generate more electricity, to power a small LED", he said. "By seamlessly integrating these microbes with nanomaterials, we could potentially realize many other incredible designer bio-hybrids for the environment, defense, healthcare and many other fields".